Probably made in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, United States
Wool and cotton
81 x 76 1/2 in. (205.7 x 194.3 cm)
Purchase, Eva Gebhard-Gourgaud Foundation Gift, 1973
Not on view
The Sunshine and Shadow pattern is closely associated with the Lancaster County Pennsylvania Amish, one of the most conservative Amish communities. This pattern is made by sewing together small squares of fabric that have been arranged by color to form concentric rings of brightly colored diamonds. These are framed by a wide border, which is often anchored with large square corner blocks. The wide outer border is often stitched with traditional designs. The Sunshine and Shadow pattern may have grown out of the Center Diamond pattern around the turn of the twentieth century. It has often been interpreted outside of the Amish community as a representation of the Amish people's belief in life's balances.
The Amish religion is a Protestant sect founded by Jacob Amman (ca. 1644–ca. 1730), an extremely conservative Swiss Mennonite bishop who split with the Mennonite Church in the 1690s because of his belief that it had become too lenient in both church ritual and discipline. Both the Mennonites and the Amish differed with the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, in that they believed in voluntary adult baptism rather than infant baptism. These believers, called Anabaptists, were victims of religious persecution in Europe, but both groups eventually found a safe haven in America.
The Amish immigrated to America in two distinct waves. In the years between 1737 and 1770, about five hundred Amish arrived in the colonies, settling primarily in Pennsylvania. A second, larger group numbering about three thousand, came here during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. While some members of the group stayed in Pennsylvania, many continued to move west in search of good and inexpensive farmland. They eventually formed large settlements in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, and Iowa, as well as smaller ones in other states, and in Ontario, Canada. Most of these communities have remained vital; currently, about one hundred thirty-five thousand Amish live in North America.
Today, as in the seventeenth century, the Amish attempt to keep themselves at a distance from those leading what they see as a "worldly" existence. In order to live their day-to-day life in a properly simple manner, they follow a set of church strictures called the "Ordnung". To varying degrees, depending on the community, the Ordnung instructs them to reject modern conveniences, most notably cars and municipally provided electricity. The Amish have separate schools for their children, who are only educated through the eighth grade, and believe strongly in upholding their traditional agrarian lifestyle. Their style of plain dress, a holdover from at least a century ago that serves as a visual boundary to separate them from the rest of the world, is an important factor in the appearance of their quilts.
Quilts made by Amish women differ from other American quilts in their choice of color palette and in many of their piecing and quilting patterns. By using many of the same fabrics used in their clothing, Amish women intentionally create quilts that are clearly distinctive—these quilts are another visual statement that sets their community and traditions apart from those of the world at large. By using only solid-color fabrics in the relatively somber color palette that is prescribed by their religious laws and, in some communities, like those of Lancaster County, only certain traditional patterns, Amish women proclaim their belief in the ways of their faith.
This Sunshine and Shadow pattern is made by sewing together small squares of fabric that have been arranged by color to form concentric rings of brightly colored diamonds. These are framed by a wide border, which is often anchored with large square corner blocks. Sunshine and Shadow quilts do not afford the maker as much area for fancy quilting. Usually the small squares are either quilted near each seam, or, as in our example, the squares are simply crosshatched with diagonal lines of stitching. However, the wide outer border can be decorated with many traditional designs—in this case, feather quilting.
The Sunshine and Shadow pattern, which evolved from the Diamond in a Square (see 1973.157) pattern, had been stitched by Mennonite quilters of Lancaster County beginning in the late nineteenth century, but using printed cottons rather than solid-color wools. It grew popular among the Lancaster County Amish in the 1920s. Although Sunshine and Shadow quilts are most commonly found in Lancaster county, documented examples exist from other Amish communities.
The pattern has often been interpreted outside Amish communities as a representation of the Amish people's belief in life's balances--day and night, summer and winter, good and evil--and in the ways of the outside world as opposed to the Amish way of life. Whether this particular quilt pattern has specific meaning to the Amish themselves has never been proved conclusively; it may be that it is favored simply because of its vibrant appearance.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]